More medicines than ever before are in development for the treatment of breast cancer, a report published today by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) shows.
In total, there are almost 400 compounds worldwide at various stages of development into cancer, with some 50 of these targeted specifically at breast cancer. But more treatments for breast cancer may emerge since, as the report spells out, many cancer medicines can be transferable between different types of the disease.
With more medicines also available now than in the past, the range of clinical options has never been wider and - while the report emphasises that there is still a long way to go - there is optimism over our ability to treat the disease.
But these new medicines will only benefit patients if more widely used. For example, use of the latest treatment, Herceptin, is currently more than double in Germany than in the UK and this country also lags far behind France, Spain and Italy in take up of this new medicine.
"Tackling cancer is one of the top priorities of health administrations throughout the world, including the UK, and this evidence clearly shows that the pharmaceutical industry is leading the way in discovering new and effective treatments for the condition," said Dr Richard Barker, Director General of the ABPI.
"In the UK alone, the pharmaceutical industry invests some £9 million every day in the search for new medicines, and cancer has long been one of our key targets. The success of that endeavour can be measured by the major steps that have been - and are being - made in the treatment of this life-threatening condition.
"While we know that major challenges still lie ahead, even if only a few of the medicines under development become successful, the number of treatments for breast cancer patients are likely to improve significantly. But patients will only see these benefits if uptake of these new medicines by the NHS is strong and consistent.
And Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, added: "It's vital that the thousands of women living with breast cancer, their families and friends have access to accurate information and reassurance about the disease so that they can make informed choices about their diagnosis, treatment and care, and push for advances of the greatest benefit to be made available."
The greatest recent advances in medicines research have arisen from the growing knowledge of how cell growth is regulated and cell death programmed. This has enabled the development of entirely new strategies for medicines design, ranging from genetically engineered monoclonal antibodies to a battery of small molecule inhibitors.
The report acknowledges that, despite past success and future hope, there is "a mountain ahead that still has to be climbed" - about 13,000 women in Britain die each year from breast cancer, many well before old age. Nevertheless, the message is one of cautious optimism.
"Never before has the range of available medicines been as wide as it is now," the ABPI's report, Target Breast Cancer, states. "Never before have as many experimental compounds been on the drawing board.
"Even if only a few of the new medicines live up to their early promise, the options available for future breast cancer treatment could be fundamentally improved."
Target Breast Cancer shows that the five-year survival rate in breast cancer has steadily increased to 80 per cent in women diagnosed from 1998 to 2001. The cost of treatment of all cancers to the NHS is estimated to be more than £2 billion, with hospital costs accounting for 86 per cent of the total and medicines and dispensing just over 12 per cent. Although the cost of breast cancer treatment is not revealed separately, the booklet suggests that the proportions will be similar. "Hence medicines save money for the NHS as well as lives," it states.
The report pays tribute to the national breast screening programme. Estimates indicate that by 1998, mortality from breast cancer was 20 per cent lower than it would have been without the programme. The message is clear: the earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the options for treatment. And the booklet stresses the importance of being 'breast aware' and of participating in the breast screening programme.
It is especially important, because breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the UK, significantly exceeding colorectal, lung and other common cancers that affect women. It is newly diagnosed in about 41,000 women in the UK every year - although the disease can affect a small but significant number of men.
Target Breast Cancer has been written by the well-respected medical writer, Dr Mike Hall. It is available free from the ABPI, Publications Department, 12 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY; phone 020 7747 1446,
A copy of Target Breast Cancer is attached to this press release. It is the 18th in a series of guides charting the pharmaceutical industry's progress in major disease areas. Copies of the other guides, also free, are available from the address above. Those still in print include: Target Heart Disease, Target Leukaemia, Target Pain, Target Cancer, Target Crohn's & Colitis, Target Osteoporosis, Target Rheumatoid Arthritis, Target Diabetes, Target Stroke, Target Migraine, Target Prostate, Target Alzheimer's, Target Schizophrenia, and Target Skin.
For further information, please contact: ABPI Press Office 020 7747 1410
For further information about Breakthrough Breast Cancer the UK's leading breast cancer charity please contact Charlotte James (020 7025 2454) or Emma Sheppard (020 7025 2432) or email [email protected]